Ernie Barnes’ ‘The Floater’: A Lesson in Leadership Perspective

Ernie Barnes' 'The Floater': A Lesson in Leadership Perspective

Read time: 3.2 min.

👋🏽 Welcome to Inner Frontiers for Outer Impact, a weekly newsletter that provides self-leadership insights that help you develop 4 key leadership capacities: Mindset, Courage, Resilience, & Innovation.

In today’s email:

🗣 Quote: John Lubbock’s thoughts on perspective

🔎 Perspective: What great artworks can teach you about self-leadership

🚀 Insight to Action: How to use your insights on perspective for better self-leadership

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The Power of Perspective

Ernie Barnes, best known for his legendary piece, “Sugar Shack,” was an American artist whose unique style and imagery left an indelible mark on the art world.

I attended an exhibit of his work recently. While I enjoyed all of his works, one piece, “The Floater,” particularly inspired me. It led me to reflect about 3 elements of this piece.

That reflection led me to a deeper exploration of an important aspect of self-leadership: perspective.

“The Floater” by Ernie Barnes (on loan from Eric Michaux for the exhibit)

As I studied “The Floater,” I pondered the way in which the interpretation you form about it is rooted in your perspective. This is what makes art subject to the viewer’s interpretation. What I want to focus on briefly are 3 perspectives in the piece that offer insight into the role that perspective plays in self-leadership. Why does this matter?

It matters because:

Your perspective influences you interpretations

Your interpretations influence your mindset 

Your mindset shapes your decision making 

Perspective #1: The height of the basketball hoop
Barnes’ positioning of the basketball hoop shapes how you perceive its height. You form an interpretation about the nature of the subject’s feat because of that perspective.

👉🏽 You don’t actually know the height of the basketball hoop. But the perspective the artist’s rendering grants you makes it seem exceptionally tall. If you were to shift to different vantage points, however, your change in perspective would result in different interpretations of the height of the hoop. This would shift how you view the subject’s basketball skills.

Perspective #2: The length of the subject’s arm
Barnes’ depiction of the subject’s arms shapes how you perceive the length of the right arm with respect to the left.

👉🏽 Showing one outstretched arm and one bent arm influences your perspective. This may lead you to interpret the subject’s “floater” as extraordinary – almost as if he were Inspector Gadget extending his arm, not an ordinary man.

Perspective #3: The subject’s proximity to the clouds

The perspective that Barnes’ depiction of the clouds grants you shapes how you perceive the subject’s proximity to them. How you perceive this relationship influences how you interpret the subject’s activity. The closer he looks to the clouds, the more you perceive his physical act as extraordinary.

👉🏽 The combined effect of all 3 perspectives shapes what meaning you assign to this piece. When I first saw it, I was captivated by what I perceived to be an individual defying the odds and soaring up to drop the basketball in the hoop. Then, I took a step back and studied the perspective that Barnes’ depiction affords the viewer.

The varied interpretations of art make it compelling and engaging.

What evokes emotion from one person may not even register with another.

Why is that? Different perspectives result in different interpretations. How you interpret something informs the emotions you generate in response to that interpretation.

This same principle holds true in how you lead yourself.

Developing your perspective

How can you use this insight about perspective to be more successful in your self-leadership?

Spend time observing your perspective in different situations.

Explore other perspectives (e.g. other people’s and different vantage points).

Observe how your interpretations change as you assume different perspectives.

You have the power to develop your mindset and your ability to emotionally self-regulate. Investing time in self-observation and practical exercises will help you do that.

Greater self-awareness = greater emotional self-regulation


Greater emotional self-regulation = better self-leadership

The first and last person that you lead every day is yourself. Greater awareness of your perspective will position you to be more successful in leading yourself well.

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